Old Baptist, Cambridge, MA (Exterior)

Old Cambridge Baptist, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Old Cambridge Baptist
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 February 2017, 10:30am

The building

Built in 1867-1870, the church is a large stone Gothic Revival building by architect Alexander Rice Esty, known for his churches, schools, railroad depots and private residences especially in New England. Most notable are the stained glass windows that range in styles from delicate and ornate Tiffany glass to some that are in an almost opaque art nouveau style. That being said, probably the most notable thing about the building today in many ways is that it doubles as the Jose Mateo Ballet Theater (there is a statue of a dancer in the church yard). The church has been partitioned, and though it is a large building capable of hosting hundreds, only a section at the rear of the sanctuary is used for services.

The church

Old Cambridge Baptist is, quoting from their website, "a faith community for people from many religious perspectives and experiences ... a progressive, inclusive congregation." They are "radically affirming," placing particular emphasis on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) issues, as well as supporting Black Lives Matter. The church has a thriving prison ministry, a close association with the local mosque, and a growing ministry to support illegal immigrants facing deportation.
They have one worship service each Sunday, with communion ministered on the first Sunday of each month.

The neighborhood

Harvard Square in Cambridge (which for all intents and purposes is part of Boston) is a thriving and vibrant area full of restaurants, bookshops, bars and, of course, Harvard University. The famed Harvard Yard is less than two minutes walk from the church.

The cast

The Revd Cody J. Sanders, Ph.D., pastor, was the preacher. Leading the service was liturgist Chris Cornelius. Kathy Maskell, Mus.Ed.M., was the organist and pianist.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?

There were about 70 congregants. It seems the number is growing each week, as there were challenges finding seats for everyone. Particularly nice was the mix of ages in attendance, with many young people in their early twenties (presumably Harvard students).

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A big smile and a "Welcome!" as we stepped inside. Then the pastor came and greeted us personally just prior to the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Our chairs were quite comfortable. We were fortunate to have to sit on the folding chairs that were brought out to accommodate latecomers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Relaxed and friendly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to Old Cambridge Baptist Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

New Century Hymnal and The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?

A small organ and a piano were played. Himalayan singing bowls were played during the prayer time, a first for me.

Did anything distract you?

The prayer time was, on the one hand, wonderful – on the other hand, distracting. Prayer at this church is essentially a free-for-all. People put their hands up and a microphone is given to them to make a prayer request, to which the rest of the congregation reply, "Loving God, hear our prayer" if the request was for a prayer of concern; or "Loving God, we praise you" if its a prayer of celebration. The requests ranged from thanksgiving for finding of some lost crockery, support to find a job, or strength in dealing with a troubled family. Other more unusual "requests" ranged from a quite baffling statement regarding using white women's bodies to oppress black men, to how to deal with a friend who is a Donald Trump supporter. One chap told us about a great visit he had to the local mosque this past week. All the while, a man sat in the corner playing the Himalayan singing bowls.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

More formal than the prayer section might suggest. Simple, but reverential. Candles lit. Nice hymns sung.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – The Revd Cody J. Sanders is a truly outstanding preacher clearly spoken, humorous, engaging, concise.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Christ's call to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies is not about trying to be nice. It is a radical call for creative non-violent resistance. Christ had real enemies who wanted him silenced or dead. His approach was one that undermined his opponents and would effectively force them to treat everyone as an equal. Compare this to the current situation with Donald Trump as President and Steve Bannon as his chief strategist – right wing ideologues in power. We should pray for them, and pray for those who support them.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Listening to the lovely prelude, the old spiritual "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The first 20 minutes were interrupted repeatedly by folks pulling out folding chairs. Clearly people needed somewhere to sit, but it was irritating.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Nobody came up to us but a few did smile and nod - all in all very friendly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Good in parts. The coffee (fair trade) is actually served in the sanctuary, so it was all a bit chaotic, with folks leaving, putting on coats, heading for the coffee pots, etc.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – I really enjoyed this service. The congregation were lovely, but I like my extremes rather than the middle. I go for bells and smells or full on happy clappy.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

In truth, we ended up here by accident as we arrived late to the church we had planned on visiting. As accidents go, this one was a good one.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The Himalayan singing bowls. That was weird, but for some equally weird reason they sort of worked and brought a semblance of continuity to the babble of prayer "requests."

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools